Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Leveling Up Guided Reading

The week before last, EMS-ISD hosted a fabulous consultant (Debbie Whitt Jarzombek) who shared some wonderful professional development on Guided Reading. I wish I could have taken all of Willow Creek's teachers because it was so great! Since you couldn't join, I've decided to dedicate this blog post to recap on the learning. I've taken Debbie's ideas, merged them with readings from several selections by Fountas & Pinnell, and splashed in a few of my own experiences! 

One misconception I hear about Guided Reading is when upper-grades teachers claim it's  a primary grades instructional strategy. So if you are a teacher of grades 3-5, don't tune out just yet! Guided Reading just looks different with higher levels, but it is still possible and just as powerful. Also, if you find yourself with a classroom of struggling readers, it's the number one way to help build strong, independent readers, moving them closer to on-grade level materials.

A Rationale for Guided Reading:

  • It gives children the opportunity to develop as individual readers while feeling socially supported by their peers
  • It gives teachers the opportunity to observe individual readers as they process texts
  • It gives individual readers the opportunity to develop reading strategies so they can read texts independently 
  • It gives children an enjoyable, successful experience with reading for meaning
  • It develops the abilities needed for independent reading 
  • It helps children learn how to introduce texts to themselves
    (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, p.1-2)

The Guided Reading Structure:

(Fountas & Pinnell, 2012)

Is structure enough? 

Sometimes teachers fall into the trap of going through the motions of doing Guided Reading, without carefully considering the strategic behaviors they want their students to have as readers. For me, this mostly happened about six weeks into the routine, when I realized that I hadn't changed my groups at all. Fountas & Pinnell explain that one difference between small group instruction and guided reading is that the groups are dynamic and fluid. Be careful of getting too comfortable with groups. Your groups should change based on student need and interest. Fountas & Pinnell describe this process as first beginning with observation and analysis of the individual child, then grouping (or re-grouping) students based on those observations, then selecting a text that is appropriate and of interest for that group. This observation and analysis should occur on a regular basis, making groups dynamic.

Dynamic Grouping Should: 

  • Change on a continuous basis
  • Utilize assessment, observation, and evaluation on a regular, systematic individual basis
  • Be specific based on strengths in the reading process
  • Be appropriate for the level of text difficulty
  • Include skill instruction as incorporated into reading 
  • Have a balanced focus on reading for meaning and the use of flexible problem-solving strategies to construct it
Fountas and Pinnell said, "there is an important difference between implementing parts of a guided reading lesson and bringing readers from where they are to as far as the teaching can take them in a given year." As teachers of readers, we don't want to just DO Guided Reading for the sake of doing it. Instead, we want to teach individual readers to be strategic so it will carry over into their independent reading practice. We want to build their READING POWER!!

When reflecting on your Guided Reading groups, ask yourself:
  • What are the reading behaviors you observed?
  • What are your individual instructional goals for each child?
  • What text did you choose for this read to accomplish that goal?
Remember that readers are not levels, books are levels. Children can access texts at a level, but should not be defined as a level. During guided reading, we use leveled texts to help teach transferable skills to students that they can apply to any book they read. Also, we use what we know about the text demands of certain levels to teach strategies we know will help the student become successful reading those levels. A child should not be locked into a level, nor should they be progressed so quickly that they do not have time to develop appropriate skills at that level. . This is why dynamic grouping is so important in guided reading; it allows the teacher to use texts, assessments, and observations to make decisions about an individual child's reading. 

A teacher that utilizes dynamic grouping in her classroom is a noticing teacher. That teacher is tuned into the individual reader and observes how he/she works through a text.  Also, that teacher recognizes that observing specific reading behaviors allows us to understand how that child is processing text. This is done through observation, conversation, and assessment. The noticing teacher uses assessment to drive their instruction. She uses running records at least weekly to make make instructional decisions about individual children. 

Guided Reading gives kids strategies to problem solve. It's not a skills-based approach, teaching in isolation, but showing them how they can take these strategies and apply it to their independent reading. One visual that helps me with this comprehensive approach to teaching reading is this wheel from Fountas & Pinnell. It demonstrates the three different processing systems for reading- thinking within the text, thinking beyond the text, and thinking about the text. All of these come together to help build each child's reading power!

Important ideas to remember about kids who are learning to read: 

  • They need to enjoy reading, even when texts are challenging
  • They need to feel success, even when texts are challenging
  • They need to have opportunities to problem solve while reading
  • They need to always read for meaning
  • They need to learn strategies to apply their reading to other texts
  • They need to be able to use their strengths
  • They need to have their active problem solving confirmed
  • They need to use what they know to get what they don't know yet
  • They need to talk about and respond to what they read
  • They need to expand their knowledge and understanding through reading.
  • They need to make connections between texts they have read and between their own world knowledge and reading
    (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996, p.9)

Some great professional resources by Fountas & Pinnell on Guided Reading:

Guiding Readers and Writers

I challenge you to reflect on your own Guided Reading instruction to see how you can be a better noticing and observing teacher who helps develop strategic readers. The next few blog posts will be focused on different aspects of Guided Reading. If you have any questions or tips, feel free to comment below or send me an email! 


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